Legal futurist and fellow Scot, Richard Susskind, has entered the metaverse [N.B. paywall if not subscribed to The Times].
He did so at a virtual reality exhibit at the British Legal Technology Forum where he was apparently encouraged to virtually walk the plank. He was too scared to do so.
400 million Metaverse Users?
Susskind tells us that:-
there are already more than 400 million users of the fledgling universe.
He concedes that most are gamers. But are these gamers actually in the metaverse? Are they not just playing video games online? Video games that for years have not been considered to be in the metaverse? Only perhaps since Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) cottoned onto and sought to reinvent the metaverse in late 2021?
Let us look at the 400 million statistic as it sounds rather overinflated for what I would class as being the metaverse.
I assume, but Richard Susskind does not tell us, that the statistic in question comes from this article from March 2022: The Metaverse Reaches 400m Monthly Active Users
These are nearly all children as this graph shows:-
The article does indeed reveal these children to be gamers:-
What’s very obvious here is the dominance of young teenagers. Virtual worlds like Roblox (210m MAUs), Fortnite (80m) and Minecraft (160m) have an average user age of 12 – 13 years old.
Those three “virtual worlds” combined therefore account for 450 million monthly active users. That is 50 million more than the 400 million in the headline. I can only assume that some users cross over into the different “virtual worlds”. Let’s not call them metaverses.
We also learn that:-
83.5% of the total market is aged under 18.
Not a typical profile for a lawyer to have as a client I hasten to add.
The sudden drop off in users over the age of 18 is presumably linked to the former gamers now entering the real world of work or University where real life experiences will take precedence over virtual ones.
I remember selling my BBC Micro at the age of 18 in 1985 as I left home in Shetland for Edinburgh University. It had mostly been used for playing games or learning basic coding. I was going to have no time for that with a University social life to sustain!
600,000 Metaverse Users?
Another report suggests that “the virtual worlds of the metaverse have attracted nearly 60,000 all-time users” by 2022. Apparently “this is a tenfold increase since the beginning of 2020.” Quite a difference from 400 million. I assume this report was excluding the tween and teenage gamers.
What does the Metaverse mean for Lawyers?
Richard Susskind then turns his attention to what the metaverse means for lawyers. I did that back in January: 2022: The Year Lawyers get Legless in the Metaverse?
Susskind thinks that:-
It is safe to predict here, even if the detail is still hazy, that lawyers will offer their services in the metaverse when this becomes more convenient or better value.
Well maybe it is safe to predict this will happen if it does in fact become more convenient or better value.
But will that ever happen? I doubt it. How could it? I mean is putting on a virtual reality headset to enter a virtual world as a cartoon avatar ever going to be more convenient or better value than a phone call, Zoom call, e-mail or even a letter in the post or an in person meeting to communicate with your clients?
Susskind also thinks that:-
clients will congregate in online communities to help one another.
That has of course already happened since the dawn of the internet with chatrooms and forums. I doubt the metaverse will add anything significant if at all to what is already available in a more easily accessible way.
Legal Training in Susskind’s Metaverse
Then with regard to legal training Susskind opines:-
Future generations of legal professionals will be trained in virtual reality. If astronauts and surgeons can cut their teeth in simulators, lawyers and judges can do likewise.
I’m not so sure that is a good comparison. A flight simulator allows you to travel through virtual space. An operation simulator allows you to dissect virtual human tissue. This is very different from the actual tasks of solicitors where much is reading, thinking, analysing and writing. Not sure why or how a virtual reality simulator is going to help me draft a conveyancing contract or a set of court pleadings.
Also, virtual reality simulators used for specific purposes are not necessarily you entering the metaverse.
Can you not have a virtual courtroom you might ask? Of course you could but based on present technology it would be crap. In court you are not flying a virtual space ship or holding a virtual scalpel. You are examining and cross examining witnesses and presenting legal argument. Given the present abysmal state of legal chatbots having software do this virtually to anything verging on reality is at present science fiction.
But Richard does say “future generations” without giving us a timeframe (not even a five year one) so he may mean 3022 or beyond. And he may then have made an accurate prediction.
Court Hearings in Susskind’s Metaverse
Richard thinks that:-
some court hearings will be held in the metaverse.
Again I must ask why?
Why would our justice system think it was a good idea to allow anyone to appear in court as a cartoon avatar? To allow them to disguise themselves as something other than what they really are? Why would that be better than Zoom (or Webex as the courts were using in Scotland during the pandemic and still do for some procedural matters).
I really cannot see any benefit at all to anyone in having a court hearing in the metaverse. Webex is a very poor alternative to the real thing and the metaverse would be even worse.
But, if anything, the future would be appearing remotely in a courtroom where everything was more like reality rather than a cartoon world. Hologram technology rather than metaverse technology. Think of a Star Wars Council Meeting:
The Rule of Law in Susskind’s Metaverse
Susskind finishes by stating that:-
preserving the rule of law in this metaverse is the next great legal project.
On that point I am with him. Lawyers don’t have to be in the metaverse but there will be plenty of work for them to do sorting out in the real world the legal mess that the metaverse will undoubtedly create.
Image Credit: Hologram Meeting in Star Wars © Lucasfilm Limited